Week 3 NFL Picks: Free Lock of the Week

Steve Merril - Steve@prosportsinfo.com

Friday, September 20, 2013 1:35 PM GMT

Free NFL picks for the Week 3 matchup between the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings. Have we found any holes in the NFL odds worth exploiting?

Cleveland and Minnesota both come into this game winless at 0-2. The Browns lost their season opener at home to the Dolphins by the score of 23-10. Last week, Cleveland hung tough in Baltimore before losing 14-6. Minnesota lost a pair of high-scoring scoring shootouts. The Vikings lost 34-24 in their season opener at Detroit, and last week they fell 31-30 at Chicago.

The Browns have not gotten off to the start they wanted. Cleveland made a lot of changes in their front office personnel and on their coaching staff in the off-season that we viewed as a positive. Michael Lombardi took over as the VP of player personnel, and he felt it would be best to overhaul the coaching staff and change schemes to ignite the organization. His decision to do that was the right thing to do.

Cleveland’s new head coach is Rob Chudzinski, and his offensive coordinator is Norv Turner who, in our opinion, is one of the best play callers in the NFL. We expected that change alone to pay dividends for an offense that has ranked #24 or worse in points scored for five straight years, and in nine of the last ten years overall. Turner was a disaster as a head coach, but he’s a tremendous offensive coordinator.

The offense has looked anything but good as they’ve scored just 16 total points. QB Brandon Weeden is injured so Brian Hoyer will get the start in Minnesota. Hoyer was the backup QB for the Patriots for three years so he learned from watching one of the best in Tom Brady. Last season, Hoyer played in two games (one start) for Arizona and he completed 30 of 53 passes for 330 yards. He can’t play any worse than Weeden has thus far.

Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator is Ray Horton, and if the first two games are any indication, he has a solid stop unit under his direction. The Browns’ defense has been impressive as they are #2 in the NFL allowing opponents just 4.2 yards per play. Their rush defense has been terrific and they are #1 in the league, allowing only 2.0 yards per rush attempt. That will key in this game against the Vikings who need to run the ball in order to have success.

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson had a monster 2012, and without him, the Vikings would have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Vikings ranked #2 in rushing the ball and #31 in passing the ball with QB Christian Ponder. Not much has changed as in two games, Peterson has run for 193 yards while Ponder has completed just 58.6% (34-58) of his passes with 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. 

The Vikings’ defense has been shredded for 888 yards in their first two games. And even though they are facing a lesser offense in this game, Minnesota simply does not have the right profile to be laying nearly a full touchdown. Half of their wins (5 of 10) came by 7 points or less last season so they cannot be trusted in the favorite’s role.

There’s a lot of negativity on the Browns, and many are saying they’ve quit on the season already. They traded RB Trent Richardson to the Colts earlier in the week; he was one of their best offensive weapons. The Browns will play Willis McGahee at running back now, and he has plenty of experience.

Sometimes a move like this will galvanize a team, especially when everybody else is mocking the move. If the Browns are ever going to come out and play one of their better games, it will be on Sunday in Minnesota.

Cleveland is 0-2 ATS losing as a favorite to Miami and as an underdog at Baltimore. Keep in mind that the Browns took money in both of their games, and the pointspread moved in their direction by 2 points in both games. That is significant knowledge because it represents the fact that sharp bettors respect the Browns.

They closed as 5.5-point road underdogs last week in Baltimore, but this week they are getting 6.5 points versus a weaker team in Minnesota. Value doesn’t cash betting tickets, but Cleveland holds pointspread value in this game.

Prior to last week’s loss, Cleveland was 6-3 ATS as road underdogs their last nine times in that role.

Minnesota is just 2-6-1 ATS as a home favorite their last nine times in that role over the last two seasons. The Vikings go from back-to-back divisional road underdogs to a non-division home favorite this week so they are not in the best of spots to be laying points, especially since they come off close, high-scoring shootouts.

Follow all of our Week 3 NFL Betting coverage

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The current pointspread on this game has the Vikings -6.5 with a total of 40.5 at the majority of sportsbooks.

Cleveland and Minnesota are two teams that have major question marks, but in this particular game, there’s a lot of NFL betting value in playing against the Vikings. The Browns stop the run well and running the ball is how the Vikings’ offense works. QB Ponder will have to win this game with his arm, and we simply do not see that happening. Cleveland will take this game right down to the wire so grab the points with the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

Pick: CLEVELAND BROWNS (+).